Sporting a pair of bright red sneakers, Pippen took his game to yet another level last night with a 29-point, 11-rebound performance that earned him MVP honors as the Eastern Conference All-Stars defeated the Western stars, 127-118, before a sellout crowd of 17,096 at the Target Center.
In a game that visibly marked a league in transition, with 11 players making their first All-Star appearance, it was a familiar group of veterans that had the biggest impact in the East ending a two-game All-Star losing streak. New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing, an eight-time All-Star, scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds; and Cleveland Cavaliers guard Mark Price, playing his third game, added 20 points and five assists.
But it was Pippen, who before the season faced questions whether he could carry the Bulls with the retirement of Michael Jordan, who did something that his former famous teammate couldn't do the past two seasons -- lead his team to an All-Star victory.
"It wasn't a statement, but maybe it was past due judgment," said Pippen, who was the unanimous winner of the award. "With Michael on the club, it overshadowed some of the guys like Horace [Grant] and B. J. [Armstrong] and to some extent myself. It's time we were all recognized as All-Stars."
Pippen earned his recognition early, at one point in the first quarter scoring nine straight points for the East. He scored 27 of his points through the first three quarters, and tied an All-Star record with nine three-point attempts (he made five, one off an All-Star Game record).
"Scottie's performance was tremendous," said Atlanta Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens, who led the East. "He's the MVP of his team and, when they start considering [MVP] at the end of the season, they certainly have to consider him."
The East hit 10 of 24 shots from three-point range, setting an All-Star Game record (the previous best was nine, set last year when Price hit a game-record six threes).
It was the East, which had seven of the first-time All-Stars, which controlled the game the entire way. Despite a lackluster beginning from both teams that failed to generate much fan response, the East was able to take a 72-64 lead despite shooting just 41.9 percent from the field -- and even though Orlando center Shaquille O'Neal, the league's leading scorer, scored just three points in the half while missing all eight of his field-goal attempts.
O'Neal, who averages 28.5 points a game, was never a factor, scoring just eight points on 2-for-12 shooting from the field.
Still, the East had its biggest lead, 103-90, after a short running jumper by Ewing eight seconds into the final period. But the West, which started the final quarter with a 17-7 run, got as close as 108-107 after David Robinson (19 points) hit one of two free throws with 7:17 left.
A 9-3 run in which Ewing (12 fourth-quarter points) and Knicks teammate John Starks did all the East scoring, increased the lead to 117-110 with 4:23 left. The West was able to pull to within 117-115 after a three-pointer by Utah guard John Stockton (13 points, 10 assists) with 3:15 left. But the East ended the game with a 10-3 run for the win.
Despite playing with a team full of younger players, Wilkens went with a veteran nucleus in the fourth quarter.
O'Neal didn't enter the game in the fourth quarter until there was 1:31 left in the game, and provided the highlight of the night when he grabbed a lob pass from Pippen with his left hand and slammed it over Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon, who was sent sprawling to the floor.
"You try to play everyone to give everybody a shot," Wilkens said. "But when the game's on the line, I wanted a guy like Scottie on the floor. Also Mark [Price] is a veteran player and Patrick's a veteran player. It's a growing experience for the younger guys."
Veterans also were the leading scorers for the West, with Olajuwon's 19 points and 11 rebounds going along with Robinson's 19 points and 10 rebounds.
In a season where centers have been dominant, three of the four last night had big games.
"Everybody likes the competition you get when there are so many good centers playing," Ewing said.
For the youngers players who didn't get a lot of minutes down the stretch, the game was an opportunity to observe and learn.
"It was a wonderful experience for me, for one day being recognized among the best in your field," said Armstrong who, starting in his first All-Star Game, scored 11 points. "I had as much fun playing in this game as I've ever had; it was a very worthwhile experience."
And it was a worthwhile experience for Pippen, who stood out with his bright red shoes.
"I saw those shoes, the first thing I told him was to take those things off," Robinson said. "He's been playing great this year. You really can't defend him."
Added West teammate Stockton, "I think of him like L.T. [Lawrence Taylor] because of the things he can do on the court. He changes the game all by himself because he is so versatile."
And he was happy, about his performance that takes his ever-gaining respect to even a higher level.
"I've never gotten that kind of individual reward before, never stood out like that," Pippen said. "It means a lot. But my ultimate goal is success for the team, and I think individual goals will come with that.
"I'll have to put the reward behind me," he added. "Maybe winning it was a disadvantage, because now all the players in the league will come after me. I'll just enjoy it and put it on the shelf."